Rick Scott – Florida Politics

FEMA chief preaches local preparedness for disasters

Local officials across Florida shouldn’t rely on the federal government to be on the ground everywhere a day or days after the next natural disaster, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday during the annual Governor’s Conference on Hurricanes.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long bluntly stressed that his agency and others that offer disaster assistance have been stretched thin after a series of 2017 storms and wildfires, as well as the ongoing volcanic eruption in Hawaii, so local officials should have their own plans to provide water and other essential services for the first few days following a disaster.

“If you don’t have the ability to do things such as provide your own food and water and your own commodities to your citizens for the first 48 to 72 hours, and I’m asking you to consider pre-event management concepts, I’m questioning whether or not you’re an EMAP (Emergency Management Accreditation Program) accredited emergency management agency,” Long said while appearing at the week-long training event at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach.

“If you’re waiting on FEMA to run your commodities, that’s not the solution,” Long added. “I can’t guarantee that we can be right on time to backfill everything you need.”

With the start of the six-month hurricane season two weeks away, Long said FEMA isn’t “going to back away” when disasters strike. But he said local and state capabilities need to be strengthened, such as signing deals with private water bottlers and debris haulers and hardening local communications systems.

He talked of a need to revamp the national flood-insurance program, saying that due to “affordability” about 80 percent of homeowners in Houston didn’t have flood insurance before Hurricane Harvey hit last year.

Long said he’s also trying to revamp FEMA’s business model, as he estimated the agency spent about $300 million a day responding to disasters in 2017, with hotel bills at $3.5 million a day for displaced residents due to hurricanes Irma in Florida, Maria in Puerto Rico and Harvey in Texas, as well as floods, tornadoes and fires.

“The bottom line is that my operational capacity internally does not grow with the number of events that we have,” Long said.

Long’s comment came after Rep. Jeanette Nunez, a Miami Republican who oversaw the state House’s response to Hurricane Irma, encouraged emergency managers to keep pushing for storm hardening projects. She noted many storm-related proposals failed to advance during this year’s Legislative Session when lawmakers redirected $400 million to respond to the February massacre at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“We really had to struggle at the end to find a way to keep our budget balanced but also address that particular tragedy,” Nunez said.

Lawmakers approved storm-related money for such things as farm repairs, affordable housing in Monroe County and to help students displaced from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Still, many of the high-profile measures crafted in response to hurricanes Irma and Maria failed to win support. They included strengthening the electric grid, creating a strategic fuel-reserve task force, requiring the Division of Emergency Management to use certified sign-language interpreters during emergency broadcasts and using rail-tank cars to bring fuel into evacuation areas to avoid a repeat of runs on gas stations.

“Those are good baselines to start for the upcoming session, next year,” said Nunez, the chairwoman of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness who will not return for the 2019 session due to term limits.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott told people attending the conference to “pray” Florida won’t be impacted by hurricanes for the third consecutive year.

“Hopefully we won’t have any hurricanes. It would be nice not to have, in my eighth year, any hurricanes,” Scott said.

Scott also praised people attending the conference for their work to restore services following hurricanes the past two years.

The governor’s office announced on Wednesday the state has submitted a $616 million request to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for ongoing Hurricane Irma recovery efforts.

HUD has 45 days to respond to the state’s request for the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program money, which would go into providing assistance to impacted businesses, repairing homes, building new affordable rental units and buying land for affordable housing.

The federal program requires at least 80 percent of the money go to the hardest-hit counties and ZIP codes. As part of the state’s request, the areas listed in the application include Brevard, Broward, Collier, Duval, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Polk and Volusia counties, as well as ZIP codes 32136 in Flagler County, 32091 in Bradford County, 32068 in Clay County and 34266 in DeSoto County.

The money would also help Puerto Ricans who have relocated to Florida due to Hurricane Maria.

Bill Nelson confronts Rick Scott, restive base as campaign ramps up

Friday afternoon brought Sen. Bill Nelson to Jacksonville for various events, including a fundraiser at Baptist Health, a nod to facing the staunchest challenge of his political career from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott for Florida” has spent $3.2 million on ads just this week, and $8 million since the Governor entered the race.

So Nelson is getting general election pressure, even as Democrats ranging from rainmakers like John Morgan to strategists like Steve Vancore and county chairs and activists fret that the Senators isn’t energizing the base.

Nelson, meanwhile, is gearing up for the toughest campaign of his life against Scott. We asked Nelson about the challenges he will face there, as well as the alleged issues energizing core supporters.

“First of all, he is independently wealthy. As we saw in past campaigns,” Nelson said, “he can write a check. His first campaign for Governor, he wrote $85 million of his own money.”

“Naturally,” Nelson added, “we are not going to have that kind of money. But that’s not the way that you win elections. People have a choice. Who’s in it to serve the people? And who’s in it for themselves?”

“We’re still six months out from this election. By the time that you get around to November,” Nelson said, “it’s going to be very clear the choice the people of Florida have.”

“I’ve always said that the best politics is just to do a good job. My job takes me to Washington every week,” Nelson said, “to vote and pass laws and to kill legislation and to try to bring us together in a bipartisan way.”

Indeed, Nelson is striking a moderate path — the latest evidence of that is his vote to confirm CIA Director Gina Haspel, which he justified in Jacksonville Friday.

“I have been on the Intelligence Committee. I have been through all the questions on the waterboarding,” Nelson said.

“I know that she did not affirmatively participate in that waterboarding,” Nelson said. “But what was more important to me was that she [will] not do it again.”

“It’s a form of torture. It’s against the law. And she has clearly said that she would not participate in that. She is obviously qualified, and I’ll tell you, we need the best and brightest that we can get as the head of the CIA,” Nelson said.

Nelson noted that he has the “good fortune of nobody running [against him] in the Democratic primary.”

“They gave me a vote of confidence to be the standard bearer for them in the November election,” Nelson said.

Report says changes will increase health premiums

Premiums for health insurance plans sold on the federal marketplace are expected to increase by nearly 16.9 percent in Florida next year due to changes in the Affordable Care Act, according to a new analysis released Friday.

Released by the Center for American Progress, the analysis estimates that a decision by Congress and President Donald Trump to repeal the mandate that people buy health insurance, coupled with proposed changes to the types of policies that can be sold, will increase premiums for Floridians by $1,011.

The report by the left-leaning group estimates that the average unsubsidized health insurance premium for a 40-year-old male buying a marketplace policy in 2019 will be $6,995.

The Affordable Care Act has provided subsidies for many people buying coverage, reducing their costs. More than. 1.7 million Floridians enrolled in the health insurance marketplace this year, with more than 1.5 million receiving subsidies either in the form of advanced premium tax credits or additional cost-sharing reductions that help lower co-payments and coinsurance requirements.

The new analysis accounts for the impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that individuals buy health-insurance policies as well as a Trump administration proposed rule to rescind limits on the sale of short-term insurance plans.

The individual mandate, one of the most controversial parts of the federal health care law commonly known as Obamacare, was repealed as part of a tax overhaul that passed in December.

In a prepared statement, Topher Spiro, vice president for health policy at the Center for American Progress, blasted Trump and Congress for what he called “sabotage of the insurance marketplaces.”

“First they passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and now they’re asking middle-class Americans and people with pre-existing conditions to pick up the tab,” Spiro said. “They should be focused on lowering health care costs, not increasing them and intentionally undermining the stability of the insurance marketplaces that millions of Americans benefit from.”

The analysis came a day after Florida Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott urging him to take steps to protect Floridians from spikes in health insurance premiums. They also asked that Scott — who adamantly opposes the Affordable Care Act — require health plans to provide for essential health benefits, like hospital care or prescription drugs, and raised concerns that consumers could end up buying low-benefit plans.

“These junk plans would return patients to the days where only upon illness did they discover their plans imposed limits on coverage and excluded vital benefits,” said the letter, signed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Congresswoman Kathy Castor and 10 other Democratic members of the delegation. Nelson faces an election challenge in November from Scott.

The letter asked Scott to work with state Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier to take steps to make sure consumers are kept safe. Democrats also asked that Scott consider investing in outreach and enrollment efforts and help provide funding to navigators who can connect patients with the federal marketplace. Floridians buy coverage through the federal marketplace because the state decided against setting up its own exchange.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor’s office received the letter, adding that “Congress hasn’t controlled the nation’s health care costs or passed a balanced budget in decades.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.18.18 — Relationship business

As Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is fond of saying: politics is a “relationship business.”

So, this edition of Bold spotlights the utility of political friendships.

Whether running for Congress or state or local office, you’d better have your friends’ endorsements (well-timed) and the interest of the donor class (early, and often).

In each category, there will be examples of the haves — and have-nots.

File this edition away, come back to it in 100 days or so. You will see a direct correlation (if not causation) between who got the help they needed and who had juice with the voters.

Biden backs Soderberg for Congress

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg rolled out her most high-profile endorsement for her Congressional race yet Monday, with former Vice President Joe Biden backing the Clinton administration alum.

Nancy Soderberg was instrumental in Bill Clinton-era foreign policy.

“I’ve known Nancy for three decades since she first started her work in the Senate,” said Vice President Biden. “She is a lifelong public servant who has served at the highest levels of government. At the White House and as an Ambassador to the United Nations, Nancy brokered international peace deals and helped develop and promote U.S. national security policy. She understands what it’s like to bring both sides to the table and solve complex issues. She’s been tested and she’s delivered.”

Biden is “supporting Nancy because she’s a problem solver, and will fight for the values of the 6th District: growing the middle class, creating jobs you can raise a family on, ensuring every family has access to affordable health care and every child can get an affordable education. She has the knowledge and experience to make a difference and get things done for the people of the 6th District.”

Soderberg, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Vice President Biden, who has dedicated his life to standing up for American men, women and children.”

Florida’s 6th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Ron DeSantis, extends from St. Johns County south to Volusia on Florida’s east coast.

Dems rally behind Lawson

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson hinted earlier this month about a swath of endorsements from Florida Democratic colleagues in Congress, and Monday he delivered.

Rep. Al Lawson (shown with French President Emmanuel Macron) trumpeted a swath of Congressional endorsements this week.

In total, eight endorsements came his way: Reps. Darren SotoVal DemingsCharlie CristKathy CastorLois FrankelTed DeutchDebbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

“I am humbled to receive the support of my colleagues as we continue to make our economy stronger, communities safer and produce results that all North Florida families can be proud of,” Lawson said.

These endorsements come at a key time for Lawson. Alvin Brown, the former Jacksonville mayor currently primarying Lawson, enjoyed a two-to-one fundraising advantage during the first quarter of 2018.

And that means that Brown has pulled close to incumbent U.S. Rep. Lawson in terms of cash on hand.

For the quarter, Brown brought in $167, 088, while Lawson hauled in $83,866.

Lawson had $100,000 cash on hand at the end of 2017 before Brown got in the race. Now Lawson has just under $160,000 and Brown has just over $127,000.

A. Brown lauds Ramadan; decries anti-Muslim discrimination

As incumbent Lawson collected endorsements, challenger Brown staked out the high ground.

Former Jacksonville Mayor and current 5th Congressional District Democratic hopeful Brown became the first and so far only North Florida candidate this cycle to laud the beginning of Ramadan.

Alvin Brown made his first public statement in his career on Ramadan this week.

In a statement released this week, Brown lauded the beginning of the annual celebration, while decrying discrimination against American Muslims.

“At sunset, Muslims in my district and across America will begin their monthlong celebration of the holy month of Ramadan. The month is an auspicious time for the Muslim community when the faithful will use the month to not only fast from dawn to dusk each day but also spend time to renew the spirit of their faith,” Brown asserted.

“Our nation is founded on the creed ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and this creed affirms that diversity is our national strength. We celebrate that diversity by recognizing religious pluralism as foundational to our national unity,” Brown added.

“At a time when the American Muslim community is facing unprecedented bigotry and discrimination, I join all Americans of goodwill and conscience to uphold the dignity of all our citizens. May this Ramadan be a source of blessings and joy to all those who choose to celebrate this month. Santhea and I wish all my American Muslim neighbors a very Blessed Ramadan,” Brown concluded.

Gibson stretches lead over hapless primary challenger

Jacksonville political watchers are beginning to wonder about the strategy of City Councilman Reggie Brown, who opted to primary Democratic Senate Minority Leader-Designate Audrey Gibson in August but has not yet actually raised any funds.

Reggie Brown is having problems getting traction against a heavily backed incumbent.

Through April, Gibson was far in the lead fundraising wise with more than $132,000 banked, with Brown far behind, closing the month with just $4 on hand.

Gibson has been quiet about her challenger but has committed to fundraising, with strong April receipts measuring over $17,000, pushing her over $156,000 raised and to the aforementioned $132,000 cash on hand.

Gibson brought in receipts from unions, such as the police and fire locals, as well as racing interests, Crowley Maritime, and traditional Republican donors such as John Rood and John Baker.

FOP crosses party lines in state House races

Jacksonville’s local Fraternal Order of Police went bipartisan with its latest swath of endorsements for state House, including choosing a Democrat over a field of Republicans running to replace Jay Fant.

In House District 15, the FOP endorsed Tracye Polson over Republicans Wyman DugganJoseph Hogan and Mark Zeigler.

The language of the endorsement lauded Polson’s “dedication to her community.”

Trayce Polson continues to build momentum in what has been a disciplined campaign.

Polson is the safest bet of the four candidates in the race, in that she is unopposed for her party’s nomination. Between her campaign account and that of her “Better Jacksonville” political committee, she has raised $211,000, with $135,000 on hand.

The FOP offered two other endorsements in the latest rollout, backing incumbent Republicans over underfunded Democrats.

In HD 11 and 12, the union went with Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough.

Democratic opponents in both those races are struggling with real fundraising, which augurs poorly for their challenges to safe Republican seats.

Moran backs Polson over Republican field

In 2011, which was a different time in Jacksonville politics, Republican Audrey Moran was a strong candidate for Mayor.

Audrey Moran. (Image via Wave Magazine Online)

Though Moran fell short of the runoff election, her candidacy is still seen by many as an intersection of purpose and politics.

Moran’s days of running for public office appear to be over; however, she is still active in the scene, and crossed party lines to endorse Polson in HD 15.

“Dr. Tracye Polson will bring fresh ideas and strong leadership to Tallahassee,” said Audrey Moran in a statement from the Polson campaign.

“She is smart, collaborative and courageous. Tracye is a first-time candidate for public office and a breast cancer survivor. She knows our community and is ready to fight for what Jacksonville needs. Tracye will represent all of the people in her district and I am proud to endorse her,” Moran added.

“Earning the trust and support of such an influential community presence is an indication our campaign continues to extend its reach, connecting with a wide range of voters including business leaders. Because of her experience and insight, Audrey’s counsel will be invaluable and I am deeply grateful to have her endorsement,” said Polson.

Davis pads coffers, Jackson lags

Duval Democrats are noted for their internal wars, and a good current example of such is the House District 13 Democratic donnybrook between Rep. Tracie Davis and Roshanda Jackson, a former district secretary for state Rep. Kim Daniels.

Tracie Davis wants two more years.

The Davis/Jackson contest is one of two major primary votes awaiting some Jacksonville voters, the other being Davis’ political ally, Sen. Audrey Gibson, being challenged by Daniels’ ally, Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.

The Gibson/Brown contest is one-sided in terms of cash-on-hand, $132,000 to $4.00 in favor of the incumbent. And at least in the early going, the Davis/Jackson contest is lopsided in favor of the current officeholder.

Davis raised $3,100 in April, pushing her over $40,000 on hand out of $41,815 raised. Her top donors, at the $500 level: AT&T Florida PAC, Florida Dental PAC and Fiorentino Group.

Davis, who had a fundraiser in Springfield Monday evening at Crispy’s on Main Street, looks to have a stronger May than April.

Jackson, meanwhile, has raised $830 in her two months in the race and has $800 of that on hand.

Per LobbyTools, the seat “is safely blue with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 54,686 to 22,554 with another 15,550 registered as independents.”

Developer dosh finds K. Brown

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Katrina Brown will have access to capital her many opponents won’t.

Six of them were from her own Democratic Party. One of the challengers died soon after filing, leaving five Democrats and one NPA candidate in the mix.

Brown, who dealt with bad news cycles including issues with her family business defaulting on city-funded economic development loans and grants, and an altercation with local police when a Council colleague was arrested, nonetheless is running for re-election.

And April’s receipts indicate that Brown will have help from developers in her re-election bid.

In her first month of actual fundraising, Brown raked in $7,000, from $500 and $1,000 checks.

Advocates for Business Growth ponied up, as did developers (the Sonoc Company, Leone Development and Nocatee Development, along with Sleiman Holdings), and attorneys interested in development (Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow).

Brown is still in a distant third place in terms of total money raised. The leader, Tameka Gaines Holly, brought in $3,458 in April (much of the money from within the district), leaving her with roughly $19,000 on hand.

Another shot for Daniels

Recent electoral setbacks weren’t the last call for the peripatetic political career of Jacksonville’s Jack Daniels, as he again has filed to run for the Jacksonville City Council.

Daniels, who shares his name with a consumer product, has taken many shots at public office. Yet, despite his efforts, the glass has come up empty time after time.

Still, he continues his efforts. And in 2019, he will get an electoral rematch against District 2 Republican Al Ferraro, the man who beat him three years prior.

Al Ferraro will face Jack Daniels, again.

Daniels, who raised less than $8,000 for his race, had good ROI: he got 27 percent of the vote.

“Since I hadn’t accepted any political money, my campaign for city council consisted of almost nothing but a year of door-to-door visits. In contrast, since my opponent accepted it, his campaign consisted of paid advice from expert political consultants, continuous paid advertisement promoting his candidacy in the media, numerous paid campaigners for him who made thousands of door-to-door visits to frequent voters, a multitude of campaign signs, many mailings to frequent voters promoting his candidacy, etc.,” Daniels contended.

Despite all of this drama, Daniels endorsed Ferraro — the “opponent.” Daniels told The Florida Times-Union that Ferraro is “a really hard worker, and I think he’d be a very good person to be a council person.”

 Daniels begins the race with a considerable financial disadvantage to incumbent Ferraro, who has over $35,000 on hand after raising $7,105 in April.

Sunshine Law charges cloud Council prez race

A public notice meeting Tuesday morning called by Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis addressed “allegations made by Council Vice President Aaron Bowman on the topic of Sunshine Violations for the upcoming Council Leadership vote.”

Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis were the only two city officials to show up.

The vote comes Tuesday; Bowman has the majority of Council’s support pledged to him as he chases the top job.

However, clarity was not to be provided this week, as Bowman was not at the meeting. And neither was the head of the city’s ethics office, Carla Miller, expected to be at the meeting.

Bowman was “told by multiple sources that Dennis has been [negatively] talking about [Bowman’s] leadership endeavor.”

Dennis called the meeting to confront his “accusers,” but except for Council President Anna Brosche, no one was there.

In remarks to the media after the brief, inconclusive meeting, Dennis would not say directly that Bowman violated the Sunshine Law.

“I’ve been instructed by the General Counsel not to say that,” Dennis said.

Dennis, who chairs the Finance Committee, likely won’t have that prerogative next year. Bowman, per Dennis, is a “staunch supporter of the Mayor” — Dennis’ political enemy.

As well, with re-election campaigns looming ahead of the March 2019 “first election,” Dennis may see his opponent backed by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce — for which Bowman is a VP for the business recruitment arm, JAXUSA.

Newby drops VP bid, leaves three candidates

The clouded picture in the race for Jacksonville City Council vice president cleared up Tuesday, with Sam Newby dropping out to focus on his re-election bid.

Sam Newby, an ally of Lenny Curry, opted to stand down in the VP race.

Newby, an at-large Councilman, faces one opponent thus far for re-election.

The first-term Republican’s exit from the race leaves three candidates standing: Democrat Tommy Hazouri and Republicans Danny Becton and Scott Wilson. And thus far, none of the candidates have galvanized much support.

Hazouri, a political veteran who has been Jacksonville Mayor as well as a State Representative and School Board member, sees the VP role as the logical next level. However, he hasn’t been put in the spotlight during his time on Council, and pledges have eluded him.

Becton, a fiscal watchdog from the Southside, is a Republican in his first-term. Jim Love is a pledged supporter.

Wilson, likewise a Republican in his first term, sought the VP role last year but was steamrollered in the vote by current VP Aaron Bowman.

Council votes on these offices Tuesday, and pledge meetings will take place throughout the next week.

New officers take control July 1.

Bean, Daniels present check to YMCA

State Sen. Aaron Bean joined state Rep. Daniels this week to present a $250,000 check on behalf of the state of Florida to Eric Mann, president and CEO of YMCA of Florida’s First Coast, the YMCA’s Metropolitan Board of Directors and the YMCA’s Senior Leadership Team.

During the 2018 Legislative Session, Bean and Daniels worked together to help secure state funding for teen programming at the James Weldon Johnson Family YMCA in Northwest Jacksonville.

Aaron Bean, Kimberly Daniels present a $250K check in state funding to the Johnson Family YMCA.

“The YMCA is consistently a leader in advocating for Florida’s youth by providing programs that positively impact their lives and give them the opportunities needed to succeed,” Bean said. “This funding will allow the YMCA to increase programming for at-risk adolescents in the most underserved areas of Jacksonville, which will truly change lives and benefit our entire community.”

Daniels added: “It was an honor working with Senator Bean on the Johnson Family YMCA appropriation … This facility is strategically placed between Cleveland Arms and Washington Heights, which are high crime housing areas. The youth in these neighborhoods will benefit from the program expansion, and I am excited about what is ahead for our community.”

The funding will allow the Johnson Family YMCA to launch new programming and grow programmatic opportunities for teens and pre-teens in Jacksonville’s most disadvantaged areas. The Johnson YMCA will also use the funding to provide life skills training, job and career preparation, health education and summer employment opportunities for teens. These new programs will serve approximately 120 additional youth in the community.

Not so fast on ‘no sale’ bill

On Monday, the Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety committee deferred a bill expressing opposition to selling the local utility, a hot-button issue in recent months.

The bill will be considered in three weeks when committees next convene.

2018-248, a resolution introduced by Councilors Jim LoveJoyce Morgan and Reggie Gaffney, would put the kibosh on moves to potentially sell JEA.

This discussion comes at a time when moves to sell or privatize all or part of the utility find a phalanx of detractors and no public advocates in the present tense.

Though official positions of both JEA Interim CEO Aaron Zahn and Jacksonville Mayor Curry boil down to advocating a pause of some indeterminate length in a discussion of privatization of the utility, many observers of the process do not take those assertions at face value.

The deferral motion from Councilman Love seemed to catch co-sponsor Morgan and Councilman Garrett Dennis by surprise.

Dredge, baby, dredge

The Jacksonville Business Journal reports that “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is soliciting bids for the second phase of the harbor deepening project, estimated to cost between $125 million and $200 million.”

Dredging continues in Jacksonville.

This phase, “Project B,” is expected to cost $187 million and will deepen miles 3-8 of the shipping channel.

Project A, still in progress, is expected to be wrapped next year.

Federal funding, which has been in place, is not assured for this part of the project. Jaxport could front the funds in hopes of eventual federal reimbursement.

The dredge, all told, will go from 11-13 miles, deepening the channel to 47 feet.

C. Brown drama lingers

A year has passed since Corrine Brown was found guilty of various counts of fraud and tax evasion related to her former nonprofit, “One Door for Education.”

Brown is imprisoned, yet the appeal process continues, predicated on whether the removal of a juror who claimed to be guided by a “higher power” was the reason she was found guilty.

Corrine Brown’s defense and appeals have been fruitless thus far.

This week, prosecutors again rejected the proposition that the discharged juror was the difference maker.

“The decision to remove a sitting juror is a significant one that justifiably warrants careful, albeit deferential, review by this (appeals) court,” the document said. “The district court’s decision here handily withstands that review. The court took this issue very seriously and removed the juror only after having carefully considered whether that juror would be able to follow the court’s instructions and decide the case based on the evidence. And the court did so only after having concluded that the juror’s decision — that he had been told by the Holy Spirit before deliberations had even begun, that Brown was not guilty of all 24 charged crimes — was not based on the juror’s evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence.”

Brown, who was convicted last year on 18 felony counts and sentenced to five years in prison, has focused her appeal on the decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan to dismiss the juror.

Bestbet doubles down

In another gambling case that could reach the state Supreme Court, a Jacksonville casino is appealing the state’s decision to end its quest for a slot machine license.

Bestbet doubles down on slots hopes.

Jacksonville Kennel Club, which does business as bestbet, filed a notice of appeal Tuesday to the 1st District Court of Appeal after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) turned down its application last month. The department regulates gambling through its Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering.

Any expansion of slots is opposed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which pays the state millions each year for the exclusive right to offer slots at its casinos outside South Florida.

And a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November would require the statewide approval of voters before any expansion of gambling — and its backers say the measure would have retroactive effect.

The crux of the Jacksonville appeal is last May’s Supreme Court decision denying slots to a track in Gretna, Gadsden County, and in other counties that passed local referendums allowing them. Duval was one such county; bestbet Jacksonville wants to add slots to its poker and simulcast wagering.

Jags’ Bortles plays a little defense

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was in the rare position of playing defense last week. Not on the football field, but in his own home.

News4Jax reported that a young neighbor, Joseph Horton, was able to get into Bortles’ truck parked outside his home while the quarterback was hosting a party. The 18-year-old Horton tried to steal the truck, but was unable to navigate through multiple cars belonging to those attending the party.

Blake Bortles is playing defense at home.

Not satisfied to take Bortles’ wallet, which was in the truck along with the keys, the teenager went into the house full of partygoers and went upstairs. When no one recognized him, police were called.

When they arrived, Bortles and two friends were standing guard over the young man, who claimed to enter the house in search of a girlfriend. No one had heard of her.

In the end, Horton was arrested, where it was later learned that he lived in a multi-million-dollar home with his parents on the Intracoastal Waterway. He was charged with burglary, trespassing, and grand theft and later released on bond.

A Twitter account called Blake Bortles Facts used the incident to take a gratuitous slap at the Cincinnati Bengals tweeting “Blake Bortles has prevented more truck thefts (1) than the @Bengals have Playoff wins since 1991.”

For the record, the Jaguars and Bengals do not play each other this year.

Former Verizon executive appointed to state university board

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday appointed the former chief financial officer of Verizon and former New York higher education authority Fred Salerno to the State University System Board of Governors.

Salerno, 74, fills a vacant seat on the board for a term effective immediately and ending January 6, 2019. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Of Hobe Sound, Salerno is a longtime veteran of the telecommunications industry. He received his bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College and his master’s degree from Adelphi University. His C.V. is extensive, packed with various leadership positions including stints as Verizon’s CFO and top spots at Viacom.

Between 1990 and 1996, Salerno chaired the Board of Trustees for the State University of New York, according to his Bloomberg profile, which also claims he’s held trustee positions with the Inner City Scholarship Fund, his alma mater Manhattan College, and the Archdiocese of New York’s Partnership for Quality Education.

He at one point also was appointed by a New York governor to head the Salerno Commission, a task force to examine the equity of state-funded education policies and practices.

The Board of Governors acts as the governing body of the State University System. Its authorities include operation, management, control and regulation of the state’s 12 universities. The 17-member panel has 14 gubernatorial appointees, along with Chair of the Advisory Council of Faculty Senates Gary S. Tyson, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart, and the Chair of the Florida Student Association Kishane Patel.

John Morgan on Richard Corcoran: Don’t go to your own ‘ass kicking’

Orlando attorney John Morgan told reporters Wednesday that he supported the decision of his friend, outgoing House Speaker Richard Corcoran, to end his bid for the Governor’s Office before it even formally started.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, last week endorsed Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam, currently term-limited as Commissioner of Agriculture.

Morgan, who aligns with Democrats, said he had told Corcoran several weeks ago he couldn’t catch up in the money game, having been already out-fundraised by Putnam and with GOP Congressman Ron DeSantis putting up a formidable challenge.

“I told him it’s all about money,” Morgan said in Tallahassee, before a trial in his lawsuit over the state’s medical marijuana smoking ban. “The question was answered for Richard Corcoran when the money froze up.

“You know, he was somebody I have helped,” added Morgan, who flirted with his own run for governor. “He’s a friend of mine. He’s someone I would have helped on the Republican side. He made the right decision … I think he knew he was gonna get beat.

“If I knew I was gonna get beat, I wouldn’t like to go to my own ass kicking,” he added.

Morgan also weighed in on Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s re-election chances against Gov. Rick Scott, the Naples Republican challenging him for the seat.

Nelson “is in for a dogfight,” he said. “He’s got to get busy. You cannot underestimate Rick Scott. He’s methodical, ever ready with money. He’s like a bald (Energizer) bunny. He never stops. He’s got the message. If I were Bill Nelson, I’d be worried.”

Rick Scott rolls out new Spanish language campaign ad, spends $3.2M on air this week

Gov. Rick Scott continues his full court press of Florida airwaves in his bid for Senate against Bill Nelson, with a new Spanish language ad released Wednesday.

“Cambiar,” a Spanish language ad running in South Florida, spotlights Scott’s efforts in job creation, with citizens extolling his efforts.

Among the kind words from various speakers: “Rick Scott has created more opportunities in Florida … There are more jobs in Florida thanks to Rick Scott … As a veteran, I’m very grateful to Rick Scott. He has created jobs and he’s put people back into the labor force, and that’s why I support him.”

Scott for Florida has spent $3.2 million on ads this week, and $8 million since the Governor entered the race.

This week, Scott has rolled out an ad per day.

Monday saw the release of another Spanish language spot, touting his efforts on behalf of Puerto Rico and providing praise for him from Puerto Rican Floridians.

That 30-second spot,  “Presente,” is running on Spanish TV stations in Tampa and Orlando.

Tuesday saw the release of an English language ad. “Party Line” features people complaining that incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is a “party line voter.”

Chris King: Ban death penalty, legalize pot, restore rights, close private prisons

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King laid claim Tuesday to the the Democrats’ most far-ranging criminal justice reform platform by vowing to seek to end the death penalty, legalize marijuana, restore felons’ voter rights, and close Florida’s private prisons.

The six-point plan, which also called for reducing incarceration rates and investing in schools to close what King termed the “school to prison pipeline,” is the broadest package yet proposed by Democratic gubernatorial candidates, though they all have pushed various justice reform issues, particularly Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

King, the Winter Park entrepreneur who’s been running a distant fourth behind Gillum, Philip Levine, and Gwen Graham in Democratic polls, unveiled the plan at the first stop of what he’s calling his “Turning the Tide” tour, at a roundtable discussion in St. Petersburg Tuesday.

“Florida needs fresh ideas and new leadership to reform its broken criminal justice system,” King stated in a news release issued afterwards by his campaign. “‘Turning the tide’ means reforming a system that needlessly criminalizes tens of thousands of nonviolent men and women in Florida. I reject the conventional politics of just seeking incremental change – we’ve got to fight for bold, progressive ideas to make our justice system fair while keeping Floridians safe.”

Perhaps the biggest and most daring of the policy positions is his call for ending the death penalty in Florida. King, a devote evangelical who often cites his faith in his speeches, has been opposed to the death penalty a long time, according to his campaign.

It’s an issue that divided much of Florida last year when Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala sought to ban the death penalty in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, eventually losing an extremely hostile fight with Gov. Rick Scott and others in the Florida Supreme Court. Yet some public opinion polls indicated that Ayala, and now King, might have majorities of voters behind the position.

King’s campaign said he would decline to issue death warrants as death row inmates come up for executions, and would seek commutations of death row sentences through the Florida Cabinet.

The campaign also said he would use “all legislative and constitutional avenues” to seek the end capital punishment in Florida and replace the state’s ultimate punishment with life imprisonment without parole, and that he would use his line-item veto pen to reject appropriations for the operations of death penalties.

With Tuesday’s platform unveiling, King also became the second Democratic candidate, after Gillum, to call for the complete legalization of marijuana in Florida.

“King believes the time has come to legalize marijuana for recreational use and tax it,” his campaign stated. “Criminalizing marijuana has resulted in increased spending in incarcerating non-serious offenders and strained relations with the police. For example, African Americans in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are at least six times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white people. King supports legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana for recreational use.”

Among King’s other proposals:

– Ending private prisons. “Rick Scott hands out private prison contracts like candy, promising that they will lower costs while not a single dollar of savings has been confirmed,” the release contended. “Private prisons in Florida absorb $142 million taxpayer dollars each year yet produce inexcusable conditions for prisoners and fail to lower the recidivism rate.”

– Restoration of voting rights. “King supports Amendment 4 to restore the rights of 1.6 million Floridians who haven’t had their civil and voting rights restored because no one who has paid their debt to society should be denied the right to vote,” the release stated. “Additionally, King supports reinstating reforms made by Gov. Charlie Crist attempting to stop delaying or outright ignoring requests by ex-felons for restoration of voting rights and other civil rights.”

– Reducing mass incarceration. “Florida’s crime and incarceration rates are in the top 10 nationally. King believes Florida’s goal should be to reduce mass incarceration by 25 percent in the next five years and 50 percent in the next 10 years with proper sentencing reform for non-violent offenders. To reduce mass incarceration, King supports eliminating harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes, instituting gain-time reform and pursuing civil citation programs,” the release stated.

– Ending the school-to-prison pipeline. King’s campaign contended the proposals would result in a $1.05 billion savings, which he would spend on K-12 education, colleges and universities, the justice system and corrections’ rehabilitation program,s and childcare and early childhood development.

New Rick Scott ad seeks to paint Bill Nelson as ‘party line’

A new television commercial being launched by Gov. Rick Scott‘s Republican U.S. Senate campaign features people complaining that incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is a “party line voter.”

The 30-second spot features Orlando Republican Puerto Rico activist Dennis Freytes and others characterizing the senator as someone who does not vote independently in the U.S. Senate, and is perhaps somehow tied to the wishes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“Bill Nelson just votes the party line,” Freytes says in the commercial. “That’s what’s wrong with our broken Congress. Everybody is a party-line voter and Bill Nelson is one of those.”

Others in the commercial say Nelson “no longer thinks and acts” independently, and speculate “I think Nancy Pelosi is a huge influence on the Democratic Party and Bill Nelson,” and “I believe Bill Nelson is way too partisan, and it’s time for him to come home.”

Carlie Waibel, Nelson for Senate spokeswoman responded, “For eight years, Rick Scott ran a one-party rule state and now, he’s doing and saying anything to be part of the one-party rule in Washington. Bill Nelson has a long record of working across the aisle and has been recognized for it, including passing legislation to keep oil rigs off Florida’s coast, bringing back our space program and working to restore the Everglades.”

The commercial was first reported on this morning on by the Tampa Bay Times, which pointed out that Nelson has one of the more moderate voting histories in the Senate, and has famously teamed with Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio so closely and on so many occasions that Rubio’s backing of Scott has been called into question.

Democratic lawmakers call for special session on K-12 funding

Two South Florida state lawmakers plan to ask the Legislature to increase the public education budget, which they say was insufficiently funded during the 2018 Legislative Session and anticipate a budget shortfall exacerbated by mandates passed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

The Legislature officially adjourned in March, but on Monday Democratic Reps. Shevrin Jones, of West Park, and Nicholas Duran, of Miami, said they’re preparing a push for a special session to increase appropriations to school districts statewide.

Schools, the lawmakers claim, were blindsided by provisions in SB 7026, the school safety bill passed in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre in Parkland.

The sweeping package appropriated $67 million to a program designed to arm non-teacher personnel in schools, resulting in an estimated $101.5 per-student increase to education funding. But the program is optional, and some of Florida’s largest school districts have already opted out of it. That’s led some to claim that the actual increase in base allocation per pupil is closer to 47 cents.

Superintendents, as reported by the News Service of Florida, said in March that they would not be able to staff at least one armed person at each school, another provision included in SB 7026. The Times/Herald bureau reported earlier this month that nearly all of 23 school districts sampled in a survey indicated they anticipate a shortfall in funding.

“School Districts across the state are hurting,” Jones said in a prepared statement. “They are asking us to rectify this egregious oversight. We will not stand idly by as we see the integrity of Florida’s educational institutions crumble because our leadership fails to provide us a proper foundation to build Florida’s future.”

To cover the mandated costs, Jones said schools will be forced to “hemorrhage qualified educators and the resources necessary to function at the most basic level.”

Added Duran: “This is yet another attack on our public schools cloaked under the pretense of good intentions. At the end of the day, leadership did what they wanted to do and not what’s best for Florida’s children.”

Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest school district, expects a .11 percent decrease in its budget, and has cited concerns of teacher retention and maintaining employment levels, according to the news release.

The announcement from the lawmakers echoes concerns raised by school superintendents even before SB 7026 was signed into law. As well, the Florida Teachers Union has consistently pushed for lawmakers to reconvene to unlock funds trapped in the optional armed-personnel program.

Following Jones and Duran, the entire Democratic bench in the race for Governor issued statements supporting a special session.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said “students and teachers have been shortchanged for decades.”

“If we fail to secure this special session this year, I will push for one next year as Governor,” Gillum said.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, also a Democratic candidate for Governor, made a similar promise.

Cutting corners “to foot the bill is unacceptable,” he said. “A forty-seven cent increase to Florida’s per-student education funding is embarrassing and a failure to our children–as Governor, I will make sure that the Legislature stays in session until they properly fund our public schools.”

On Twitter, Orlando businessman Chris King and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham also chimed in with support.

There are two methods by which lawmakers can reconvene for a special session, per Florida law. Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran can jointly call on lawmakers to come back to Tallahassee, or 20 percent of members can request the two chambers reconvene — though that would have to be approved by three-fifths of the Republican-led Legislature.

Requests for comment are pending with Corcoran and Negron.

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